Tattoo Artist’s Rite of Passage: An Interview with Tattoo Artist ASH

At the age of 18, what were you up to?

As for me – I had just completed my public exams and was eagerly awaiting the results, feeling a mix of excitement, anticipation, and a touch of anxiety about the upcoming university life. Along with my friends, we were busy planning a graduation trip, relishing the carefree moments of our last school break. At that time, thoughts about the distant future were scarce, much like those of my peers. It mostly involved pursuing higher education, finding a job after graduation, and leaving the rest for later contemplation.

Yet, for Ash, life took a different turn. During her Form Six summer break, she had already charted her future career path. Meet Ash, a Hong Kong-based female tattoo artist, commanding a hundred percent attention wherever she goes. It’s not only her striking appearance but also her captivating tattoos that set her apart.

Her journey began with a fortuitous encounter. Initially planning to get a tattoo herself, Ash was recruited by the tattoo master in the shop, turning her summer idleness into an apprenticeship opportunity. Driven by her love for art, she embraced the offer wholeheartedly. What started as a part-time gig soon morphed into a full-time apprenticeship. “Back then, I wasn’t too concerned about others’ perceptions, I was purely passionate about this craft and determined to pursue it.” Eschewing higher education and facing limited family support, she relied on her master’s encouragement to take the plunge into the world of tattooing. Reflecting on those early days in the trade, Ash downplays the challenges, but for an eighteen-year-old girl, it was no easy decision. The ink she engraved on her skin perhaps symbolised more than mere pigment; it marked the beginning of her destined journey into the world of tattoos.

As Ash embarked on her journey as an apprentice, she dedicated herself to mastering the art of tattooing, diligently honing her drawing skills and perfecting her needlework. However, being an apprentice entailed more than just skill development. She also embraced a myriad of responsibilities, from mundane tasks like cleaning and restocking to engaging with clients and managing the shop. One of the most challenging aspects of her apprenticeship was finding her distinct style. While drawing on paper was one thing, translating her art onto skin presented a whole new set of complexities. “I personally prefer bold, black lines – strong and distinct. Presenting colours with monochrome sensations, I must precisely balance the thickness and layers of the lines.” Ash explains. Apart from tattooing, Ash also runs her own fashion brand, but she maintains a clear distinction between the two. “Fashion trends may change, but tattoos are more than just fashion items.” Instead, she uses her original designs to print on clothing, offering an alternative choice for those who appreciate her style but may not be ready for a tattoo. Through her designs imprinted on both “skin” and “clothing”, she interprets her aesthetics and happily uses this platform to promote tattoo art.

Fish: Awaken and Rebirth

Ash’s first tattoo was a fish she designed herself. During that time, she was going through a challenging emotional period, feeling overwhelmed by negative influences around her. It was later that she realised she was facing emotional struggles. Following Jungian psychology, the fish symbolises rebirth and new beginnings. “Though getting a tattoo can be painful, I saw it as an opportunity to gather the courage to start anew and release all the unhappiness of the past.” she reflects. Turning to tattoos, the young girl found solace and embraced the chance for a fresh start.

Virgin Mary – Sorrowful and Burdened

Despite initial scepticism towards her chosen path, Ash wholeheartedly embraced it. After putting in continuous effort and achieving commendable results, she felt confident enough to invite her parents to her studio, giving them an insight into her daily work and reassuring them. While her mother didn’t object to her becoming a tattoo artist, she still had reservations about the tattoos adorning her daughter’s body. Indeed, as Ash walks the streets adorned with her tattoo, she encounters curious gazes, finds some people hesitant to sit beside her on the subway, and witnesses parents shielding their children’s eyes in the same elevator. It’s both ironic and amusing that the archaic stereotype of “tattoos are for bad people” still lingers in today’s society. Nevertheless, Ash pays little attention to these judgmental looks, asserting, “Should I give up just because what I do challenges conventional norms? On the contrary, I want to persevere and prove that tattoos are an art form worth embracing.” On her left arm, a large tattoo of the Virgin Mary stands as a poignant reminder for Ash: a symbol of sorrow and strength combined. This artwork serves as her personal affirmation, guiding her through moments of misunderstanding or when she feels weighed down by the burden of societal expectations. Since the age of 18, she has continuously demonstrated her determination through action, proving her passion and commitment to her craft.

Tattoos are often associated with words like “permanent”, “unchanging” and “forever”. However, for Ash, they also symbolise the lasting impact of the harm inflicted by others, much like emotional wounds that leave a permanent mark. A psychologist once told her that no one can erase traumas from our memories, they can only be minimised. This parallels how some people use tattoos to cover physical scars. The scars may remain, but through the artistry of tattoos, they transform into another way of beauty. This process also serves as a way for her to cope with past adversities and traumas. “My tattooing skill is a form of eternity too!” she laughs. “All my tattoos feel like my friends, witnessing every stage of myself, accompanying me through many solitary days. They are also a way for me to preserve memories, and I have no regrets about any of them.”

With unwavering determination, she continues her journey, with ink flowing through her veins. This is her rite of passage, as she courageously moves forward on her chosen path.

Photo source: IG@ash99_____

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